How Do We Know You Aren't Just Green Washing?
BY Tom Szaky
As the CEO of a company that proudly touts its products as eco-friendly, I am often asked by reporters, investors, and others, "How do we know you aren't just Green Washing?" For TerraCycle, the answer is easy. We manufacture and package most of our products entirely from waste -- Including a lot of non-recyclable waste. So if weren't making use of the waste, you can be sure it would be in a landfill somewhere.
But the question makes me think about the products I see people use everyday. How many are green washing and how many are truly environmentally friendly. The watchdog group CorpWatch defines greenwashing as "the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive corporations or governments attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment." Well it's easy to tell when governments are green washing -- take George Bush's Clear Skies program, for example. Sure Clear Skies sounds great, but the program actually weakens the Clean Air Act and results in less regulation of air pollutants.
It's much harder to decipher the true environmental value of consumer products. That's because the claims are harder to fact check and quantify. Sure, the product might be made from Organic Cotton, but if it's shipped it to China to be manufactured and then shipped back, then how eco-friendly could it really be? But how do you know? Many consumers, busy with jobs and families, have little choice but to take things at face value.
Oddly enough, some products that seem like clear examples of green washing turn out to be truly green. After seeing many lawn mower companies claiming to be green, I wondered, "How eco-friendly could a lawn mower really be?" Then I met the founder of Neuton, Inc., who gave me a sample of his battery-operated lawn mower. I was wrong. Some battery-operated lawn mowers are in fact green.
Some products sound so eco-friendly and yet are misleading the public. My (least) favorite example of this is the profileration of the "Eco-Shaped" water bottle being marketed by Poland Springs and others. It is "Eco-Shaped" because it uses 30 percent less plastic than the old bottle. But what about the other 70 percent? It is not even post-consumer plastic. So how "Eco" is that shape?
Are there examples of green washing that irk you? Or, more interestingly, what are some surprising items you had pegged for Green Washing but were surprised to find are truly green?
Last updated: Sep 7, 2008
TOM SZAKY is the founder of TerraCycle, a New Jersey based company that makes fertilizer using worms and produces retail products from recycled goods. The firm was started while he was a student at Princeton University. Tom was named "The No. 1 CEO Under Thirty" by Inc. magazine in its July 2006 issue.